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Salmon poisoning disease in two Malayan sun bears

Jackie J. Gai DVM1 and Stanley L. Marks BVSc, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN2
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  • 1 Oakland Zoo, 9777 Golf Links Rd, Oakland, CA 94605.
  • | 2 Department of Veterinary Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA 95616.


Case Description—2 captive sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) were evaluated because of acute onset of vomiting, mucoid diarrhea, lethargy, and anorexia 1 week after eating live trout from a northern California reservoir.

Clinical Findings—In 1 of the bears, a CBC and serum biochemical analyses revealed mild anemia, mild eosinophilia, moderate lymphopenia, moderate hypoalbuminemia, and high serum G-glutamyltransferase activity. Ultrasonographic examination of the same bear revealed ascites and mesenteric lymphadenopathy. Histologic examination of gastrointestinal tract biopsy specimens revealed moderate to severe lymphoplasmacytic and eosinophilic gastritis, enteritis, and colitis. Ova of Nanophyetus salmincola, the trematode vector of Neorickettsia helminthoeca (a rickettsial organism that causes salmon poisoning disease), were detected in fecal samples from both bears.

Treatment and Outcome—The bears were treated with oxytetracycline, doxycycline, praziquantel, and famotidine. Within 1 week after initiation of treatment, the appetite and fecal consistency of each bear were considered normal. Fecal ova shedding began 4 days after onset of clinical signs and ceased 9 days later.

Clinical Relevance—Salmon poisoning disease can be rapidly fatal in untreated animals, but if diagnosed early and treated appropriately, full recovery can be achieved. Domestic dogs and captive exotic bears are highly susceptible to clinical disease after ingestion of trematode-infected fish. Salmon poisoning disease may develop outside the geographic range in which the causative organism is endemic as a result of the transplantation of infected fish for sport fishing; veterinarians practicing in areas where infected fish may be transplanted should be aware of appropriate diagnostic and treatment protocols.

Contributor Notes

Dr. Gai's present address is 136 Brookdale Dr, Vacaville, CA 95687. Presented in part as an abstract at the Proceedings of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, Omaha, Neb, October 2005.

The authors thank Robin Houston for technical assistance.

Address correspondence to Dr. Gai.